In Fungi Perfecti’s manufacturing plant, assistant production manager Katie Brownson bags mushroom spawn for shipment to home growers. Brownson is also the company’s mycorestoration project coordinator, overseeing efforts to use mushrooms for environmental remediation.
Pioneered by Stamets, mycorestoration draws on the natural properties of mushroom-bearing fungi to fight human-made pollution. Oyster mushrooms, for example, can digest the complex hydrocarbons in wood, so they can also be used to break down petroleum byproducts. Garden Giants use their mycelia to trap and eat bacteria, so they can filter E. coli from agricultural runoff. Field experiments have shown that these applications work in principle; the challenge now, says Stamets, is making them practical on an industrial scale.
Stamets’ latest inspiration is to use mushrooms to clean up contaminated soil around Japan’s Fukushima meltdown zone. His idea is to seed the area with fungi like Gomphidius glutinosus, whose mycelia are known to absorb radioactive isotopes. When mushrooms sprout, workers in protective suits would dispose of them as nuclear waste. Stamets recently co-founded a company devoted to implementing the concept. “This is a project that’s picking up steam very rapidly,” he says.